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In a Nutshell: Early education is the key to building the foundation children need to succeed during and after their schooling careers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a nonprofit that focuses on early childhood education in various disciplines. The organization’s mathematics tools aim to teach important skills and terms to children from birth to age 8. NAEYC offers annual electronic memberships to educators and families that provide digital learning resources and discounted educational tools for as little as $30 per year.
I spent several years teaching math and science in a program for gifted first-, second-, and third-grade students. By its nature, the program attracted students who were all incredibly bright — an IQ score of 135 was required for admission into the class.
While it’s true that no two children are the same, the hundreds of students I taught over the years all had one thing in common — early access to educational tools.
The students weren’t all from affluent backgrounds. I regularly communicated with parents who delivered pizzas, worked construction, or performed intricate open-heart surgeries. Familial money had nothing to do with the level of knowledge a student had or how hard each worked.
Many came into my classroom as first-graders with complete fluency in multiplication and division — subjects I personally didn’t tackle until fourth grade. Most wanted to learn more and asked to be pushed into harder topics. I often heard stories of small projects a student had completed as a toddler that helped them understand the more difficult concepts they learned from me.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a nonprofit that focuses on early childhood education. The organization offers tools and learning activity ideas for families and educators to help improve the well-being of children, with an emphasis on the developmental years of birth through age 8.
The tools range from quick ideas for parents to convey mathematical skills to toddlers throughout their day to more intricate ways of reinforcing skills an older child learns during their time at school.
Lisa Hansel, the Editor in Chief of Young Children at NAEYC, supports her department’s push toward emphasizing the importance of mathematics education from a child’s birth.
“Mathematics is a key factor in access to college and a key indicator for college completion,” she said. “A lot of exciting careers are open to you when you’re proficient in math from an early age.”
To meet its goals, NAEYC works closely with existing teachers, students who are aspiring to become teachers, principals, and legislators to make sure all children have access to excellent education and all families have access to affordable options for their children.
In recent years, the US has pushed the initiative of increasing the number of students who ultimately pursue advanced degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. NAEYC has the same goal.
“STEM is a huge part of the 21st-century economy,” Lisa said. “The path to those interesting, fulfilling careers starts in early childhood.”
Math Exercises That Can Be Done Anywhere, Anytime
A common misconception among parents and educators is that math can only be taught in a classroom with calculators and worksheets designed to drill and improve fluency. As Lisa has seen, and my former students have proven, math skills can be acquired in any number of ways.
“Math is great because it can be done anytime and anywhere,” Lisa said. “If you’re a parent doing laundry, your child can help sort by color, then you could count items of clothing as you put them into the washing machine. You can even count them again as you switch them from the washing machine to the dryer to make sure you haven’t lost anything.”
Lisa pointed to teachable moments like standing in line at a store, where children can count how many people are in front of them and behind them in line. Not only does that exercise teach an ordinal series of numbers, but it can be a great opportunity to introduce vocabulary like before and after, or first and last.
“Simple things like this are introducing children to the essential elements of mathematics,” Lisa said.
She also suggested parents should start reading to their children within the first two months of birth. When a child grows into a toddler, it’s time to start introducing numbers, shapes, and colors.
“Doing this helps, because it prepares them for kindergarten or preschool,” Lisa said. “When they get there, there won’t be the pressure that comes with having to learn all of these new things that other children may already know.”
Family and Educator Programs Start at $30 Per Year
To further its cause, the nonprofit NAEYC offers membership categories with digital learning resources, online networking, local affiliate memberships, and NAEYC Store discounts. Plans start at $30 per year for educators and $35 annually for families.
“The information and resources we provide are digested and summarized and placed into practical things that families can do at home to enhance their child’s learning development and growth,” Lisa said.
Family memberships also include discounted subscription options for NAEYC periodicals like Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Exchange Magazine, Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, and Education Week.
“These tools really help parents who may be stumped when thinking of ways to help their infant begin their educational journey or how to help support an older child’s learning when they get home from school,” Lisa said.
Taking the “Can’t” Out of Mathematics Education
On the first day of school in any classroom, a teacher stands in front of the students and presents the rules they must obey over the next 180 days of class. Most are typical — Students Must Raise Their Hand to Ask a Question, or No Running Inside the Classroom.
During my years as a teacher, I had only one classroom rule that served me well throughout the entire year: No Student is Allowed to Say the Word ‘Can’t.’
Can’t is a dangerous word. If you say you can’t do something often enough, you begin to believe it. Within the first week of each school year, a student inevitably raised their hand and said ‘I can’t do this problem’.” The rest of the class would OOOH and AAAH as if the student had said a bad word. In a way they had.
The point was to get the children to understand there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do — it was just a matter of needing a little help or guidance to get them to the top of the mountain. NAEYC gives parents and educators tools and ideas to help children climb higher.
“There’s a common false idea where a lot of people think they’re just not good at math,” Lisa said. “An adult in the United States wouldn’t say that they’re not very good at reading — even if it’s true — because that’s seen as embarrassing. With mathematics, it’s almost said in a joking, proud, sort of way and it’s accepted.”
That mentality becomes prevalent with children if it’s heard enough, something Lisa and NAEYC are working to keep from happening.
“For young children, in particular, we want to avoid conveying any concepts that some people are good at math and some aren’t good at math and that’s okay,” she said. “Math is like any other discipline — if you spend time engaging with it, you can learn and grow and become really good at it.”